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UNIVERSITIES 

IN A 

NEOLIBERAL 

WORLD 

ALEX 

GALLINIGOS 



bookmarks publications 



fl 



About the author 

Alex Callinicos is professor of European studies at King's College, London. His most recent 
books include Resources of Critique (Cambridge, 2006) and The New Mandarins of 
American Power (Cambridge, 2003). He is a leading member of the Socialist Workers Party. 

Acknowledgements 

I would like to thank Sam Ashman, Michael Bradley, Jane Hardy, Tom Hickey, Judith Orr, 
Malcolm Povey, Mark Thomas, Alexis Wearmouth and Terry Wrigley for their help in 
writing this pamphlet. I also greatly benefited from participating in the conference 
"Universities in a Neoliberal World", held at the University of Manchester in November 
2005 (www.socialsciences.man.ac.uk/socialanthropology/events/possiblefutures/unlw.html); 
I am grateful to the organisers for inviting me. 

Contents 

Preface by Paul Mackney 3 

Introduction 5 

Neoliberalism and the "knowledge economy" 8 

Harnessing knowledge to profits 12 

Strip mining universities 16 

Proletarianisation and precarity 24 

Resistance is not futile 34 

Notes 40 



Universities in a Neoliberal World — Alex Callinicos 

First published November 2006 by Bookmarks Publications, London WCiB 3 QE 

(publications@bookmarks.uk.com) 

© Bookmarks Publications 

ISBN 1898877467 

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Printed by Pioneer Print Limited, London E18 



Preface 



As joint general secretary of UCU (the University and College Union) and 
former general secretary of Natfhe since 1998 I have frequently spoken on 
the experiences of students or our members in higher education (HE). Alex 
Callinicos has done us all a service by theorising from our experience and our 
practice in HE. 

We have the obscene spectacle of a cabinet stuffed with former student radi- 
cals who never paid fees, and who were eligible for grants, pulling up the ladder 
for this generation. When Jack Straw was president of the National Union of 
Students (NUS) and leading us in the fight to increase grants, he railed at a gov- 
ernment forcing university students to choose between a book and a meal. 
Students in the 21st century have to choose between finishing an assignment 
and doing another shift at the supermarket. 

The NUS and lecturer unions held a consistent line against top-up fees, say- 
ing that tuition fees would turn certain social groups off university. And the 
introduction of top-up fees has seen a reverse of this trend to expansion with 
almost 4 percent fewer applicants this year (2006). We warned that a market in 
higher education would lead to students choosing the cheapest courses rather 
than the most suitable. We said access to education should be based on ability 
to study and not on ability to pay 

That is why UCU stood with the NUS against raising the cap on fees. The 
NUS stood with us in UCU in our battle for decent pay. But when we look 
ahead, we need to restate the case against fees altogether. The 19th century was 
about the expansion of free elementary education. The 20th century was about 
the expansion of free secondary education and the 21st century should be about 
the expansion of free further and higher education. Further and higher educa- 
tion should become a human right, not a privilege. 

The ministers keep saying the resources for expanding FE and HE (without 
student fees) aren't there, even though students and lecturers, indeed most of 
the population, can see that this is patently untrue. It's simply a question of pri- 
orities. The government could start by raiding the budgets for war. They could 
save a fortune by bringing the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. We 
were told before New Labour's second term that Gordon had a war chest to 
spend on HE. We may have been naive but neither we nor the minister at the 
time expected him to fritter it away on an illegal and unwinnable war. 

The government, establishment and business leaders are just as ambivalent 



about further and higher education now as they were in the 19th century. Then 
they needed a more educated workforce to handle the new machinery. They 
didn't want to pay for it. Many maintained that the workers and peasants were 
too unintelligent to learn to read, right and add up. And quite a few, quite cor- 
rectly, -were worried that if they did it might be very dangerous. 

Until the 1960s technical education was all there was for the working-class. 
Universities were largely to replenish the old professions (medicine, law, politics 
and the church) and to provide a cadre of people with the sense of superiority to 
run the British Empire. Traditionally, educational theorists used to distinguish 
between narrow training and broadening education. Ironically, 21st century 
capitalism brings them together because a broad education provides the prob- 
lem-solving workers that the so-called knowledge economy needs - but it does 
it on the cheap. 

It's an irony of history that the first generation of students to suffer from top- 
up fees are the very school students who walked out over the war on Iraq, who 
have engaged with social movements such as the European Social Forum, who 
have turned out at Unite Against Fascism pickets. I remain convinced that just 
as they have won the argument for withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, they 
will find new ways of organising resistance. As Alex says, their brothers and sis- 
ters in France and Greece have shown the way and his pamphlet provides the 
context for the debate on how that can be achieved. 

It is my hope, at the time of writing, that 120,000 members of the new 
University and College Union will elect a leadership to enable them to stand 
with students for free comprehensive post-school education. While making his- 
tory is not simply a matter of will, it is nevertheless the case that people 
organised can change things. Pass it on. The idea is subversive. Organise your- 
selves: together we can change things. 

Paul Mackney 

Natfhe general secretary 1997-2005 

UCU joint general secretary June 2005 -June 2006 

November 2006 



4 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



Introduction 



Britain's universities have been undergoing a dramatic period of change. 
The most obvious sign of these transformations is physical expansion. In 
2004-5 there were 2,287,540 students in higher education. 1 Some 30 per- 
cent of 18 and 19 year olds in England now go to university, compared to only 
about 7 percent in the early 1960s. University education has ceased to be the 
privilege of a tiny minority - although it is still much harder for people from a 
manual working-class background to get to university. 2 

Some people reject university expansion on elitist grounds, repeating the 
playwright John Osborne's slogan "More means worse." Thus right wing 
columnist Peter Hitchens denounces the last Tory prime minister, John Major, 
for initiating the present university expansion, "another grave attack on the 
quality of education". 3 The New Labour government, by contrast, claims that 
university expansion is a matter of social justice: "All those who have the poten- 
tial to benefit from higher education should have the opportunity to do so. This 
is a fundamental principle which lies at the heart of building a more socially just 
society, because education is the best and most reliable route out of poverty and 
disadvantage". 4 

Expanding higher education is undeniably a noble goal. The elitists are quite 
wrong: so long as suitable resources are provided, there is no reason why the 
government target of 50 percent of 18 to 30 year olds or indeed more shouldn't 
have a university education and benefit from the experience. But the reality of 
higher education is very different from official proclamations about equality of 
opportunity and social justice. 

British universities are in fact being driven by priorities shaped by the needs 
of big business. They are being reconstructed to provide British and foreign cor- 
porations with the academic research and the skilled workers that they need to 
stay profitable. At the same time they are being transformed from scholarly 
institutions into profit centres earning foreign exchange for the economy of the 
United Kingdom. 

To this end, expansion takes place on the cheap, as resources per student are 
slashed, and universities, departments and individual academics are encouraged 
to compete with each other. The shift away from student grants to loans and 
tuition fees forces many students to work long hours to support themselves in 
preparation for a life of wage-labour. No wonder potential students from 
poorer backgrounds are being discouraged from going to university. 



AlexCallinicos 5 



This transformation is far from unique. Universities all over the world are 
being pressured to make the same kind of changes. And this restructuring of 
higher education is part of a much broader, indeed literally global, economic 
and political process known as neoliberalism. Embraced by virtually every gov- 
ernment in the world along with the business and media elites since it was 
pioneered by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, neoliberal- 
ism seeks to subject every aspect of social life to the logic of the market, and to 
make everything into a commodity that can be privately owned and bought and 
sold for a profit. 

According to the radical geographer David Harvey, "the evidence strongly 
suggests that the neoliberal turn is in some way and to some degree associated 
with the restoration or reconstruction of the power of economic elites". 5 This 
"restoration of class power" has led to a massive redistribution of wealth and 
income towards these elites. 

The top 1 percent of American households received on average 16.9 percent 
of total household income between 1917 and 1 940. Their share dropped to 8 .4 
percent in 1973, but, after a generation of neoliberalism, soared to reach 19.6 
percent in 2001. Meanwhile, between the mid-1970s and 2002, the bottom 90 
percent of households saw their share of total household income fall by 12 per- 
cent.' In Britain inequality in incomes rose sharply during the Thatcher 
government, and has stayed at this historically high level under New Labour. 7 

This shift in wealth and power has involved the large-scale restructuring of 
different social fields, including higher education. The consequences have been 
dire. Academics and other university staff are increasingly denied the opportu- 
nity to pursue knowledge for its own sake and to meet students' educational 
and other needs. They have also seen their pay decline compared to that of 
other professionals. Students, despite official proclamations that they are the 
sovereign "consumers" of higher education, are also victims of the universities' 
subordination to the priorities of the market. 

Fortunately, neoliberalism is facing increasing resistance in higher education. 
In the spring of 2006 students in France and Greece succeeded, with the help of 
university teachers and other workers, in defeating pro-market government 
"reforms". Britain didn't see anything so spectacular, but university teachers in 
Britain mounted a three-month assessment boycott over pay. These struggles 
have unfolded against the horizon of the global resistance to neoliberalism that 
started with the protests at Seattle and Genoa. 

But much larger social movements will be needed if neoliberalism is to be 
defeated and replaced by a different logic. This pamphlet offers an analysis that 
can help these movements by identifying the nature of the enemy and how to 
fight it. It draws, not just on the facts and figures cited, but on my own experi- 



6 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



ence of teaching in British universities for over a quarter of a century, and 
thereby witnessing the changes examined here. 

But I don't attack these changes out of nostalgia for an idealised past. I have 
no desire to return to the much smaller and more privileged university system of 
earlier years. Opposing neoliberalism in higher education should be part of the 
struggle for a society that really does give everyone an equal chance to realise 
themselves. Accordingly, my theoretical framework is provided by Marx's 
analysis of the capitalist economic system. What neoliberalism ultimately rep- 
resents is a particularly pure form of the logic of capital. Therefore, the struggle 
for better universities can't be separated from the movement against global cap- 
italism itself. 



AlexCallinicos 7 



Neoliberalism and the 
"knowledge economy" 



The present transformation of British universities started under the Tory 
governments of 1979 to 97. Nevertheless, New Labour has embraced the 
neoliberal restructuring of higher education in a much more whole-hearted 
way. In part this reflects the broad thrust of Tony Blair's personal agenda, now 
endorsed by Gordon Brown - to force through policies of privatisation and 
commodification in parts of the public sector where even Margaret Thatcher 
dared not go. But it is also a consequence of the central role that education 
plays in New Labour ideology and policy. 

The key idea here is that of the "knowledge economy". One of the Blair gov- 
ernment's earliest policy documents was a Department of Trade and Industry 
White Paper called Our Competitive Future: Building the Knowledge-Driven 
Economy (1998), produced by Peter Mandelson during his brief and inglorious 
stay at the DTI. Charles Leadbeater, a former Downing Street adviser, argues 
that one of the main forces ruling the world economy today: 

is "knowledge capitalism": the drive to generate new ideas and turn them into 
commercial products and services which consumers want. This process of cre- 
ating, disseminating and exploiting new knowledge is the dynamo behind 
rising living standards and economic growth. It reaches deep into our lives and 
implicates all of us as consumers and workers. If we were to turn our backs on 
the global economy, we would also leave behind the huge creative power of 
the knowledge economy.' 

The idea of the knowledge economy has in fact become a bit of a cliche 
among contemporary political and business elites all over the world. Packed 
into it are several different claims: 

• A shift is taking place from the production of physical goods to that of 
immaterial services. 

• Partly in consequence, production is becoming more "knowledge-intensive" 
- in other words, products are likely to sell more, thanks to both the increas- 
ingly sophisticated techniques used to make them and the ideas that they 
represent and that are used to market them, all of which relies on research by 



8 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



highly qualified workers. 
• The success of companies and national economies alike is therefore increas- 
ingly dependent, not on the physical plant and equipment that they have 
built up over years, decades, or even longer, but on their "human capital" - 
that is, on the skills, knowledge and imagination of their workforces. It is 
through successfully using these skills to supply what the world market 
wants that individuals, firms and whole countries can prosper. 

These ideas were especially fashionable at the time of the so-called "dotcom 
boom" at the end of the 1990s. Rapid economic growth in the United States 
and soaring share prices encouraged the euphoric belief that an IT-based "New 
Economy" had emerged that would power global capitalism into a future of 
endless prosperity. But, despite the crisis that afflicted the US at the beginning of 
the present decade, faith in the knowledge economy persists. For example, the 
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently published a widely- 
praised book called The World is Flat in which he argues that the year 2000 
marked "a whole new era" of globalisation where "the dynamic force. ..is the 
newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally" thanks 
to "software - all sorts of new applications - in conjunction with the creation of 
a global fibre-optic network that has made us all next-door neighbours".' 

My aim in this pamphlet isn't primarily to criticise the rosy picture of global 
capitalism painted by ideologues such as Leadbeater and Friedman: I've done 
this elsewhere. 10 Nevertheless, it is worth making a few points about the idea of 
a knowledge economy. First of all, claims about a shift to services have to be 
handled with great care. Some of the biggest recent marketing stories have, after 
all, been those of new physical goods, for example, mobile phones and mp3 
players. 

Secondly, successful economies tend still to be those that thrive in producing 
and exporting manufactured goods. Consider this recent report about Germany 
in the Financial Times: "No other industrial nation has so successfully har- 
nessed the opportunities offered by an inter-connected global economy. This 
mid-sized economy of 80 million, often painted as angst-ridden, risk-averse, 
and allergic to change, has been the world's largest exporter of goods every year 
since it overtook the US in 2003"." Germany is a successful exporter thanks to 
its success in maintaining its position in supplying global production networks, 
by mainly making complex components, just as China has carved out a role for 
itself in assembling finished products for these networks. 

Export success doesn't necessarily lead to job security or prosperity, however. 
Germany suffers from chronic unemployment, currently running at 10 percent 
of the workforce. More surprisingly, perhaps, according to the Asian 



AlexCallinicos 9 



Development Bank (ADB), Asia faces a growing unemployment crisis. The 
Financial Times reports, quoting Ifzal Ali, the ADB's chief economist: 

The slow pace of job creation even in countries with relatively high growth 
rates has left 500 million unemployed or underemployed in a region with a 
total labour force of 1.7 billion. Another 245 million are set to join the labour 
market over the next decade... 

While the newly industrialised economies of Hong Kong, South Korea and 
Singapore had succeeded in generating many "good jobs", demanding high 
skills and wages, others, especially in south Asia, had failed. Although the 
region has made progress in reducing poverty in the past two decades, almost 
1.9 billion Asians still survive on less than $2 a day, either unable to find work 
or earning too little when they do, the bank said. 

The bank said a "huge global oversupply of labour" resulting from the 
growing integration of China, India and Russia with the world economy had 
led to a "race to the bottom" as companies pursued competitiveness with 
"often ideological zeal". 

"Asia's success will sooner or later be eclipsed by the pressures of a huge 
'reserve army' of unemployed and underemployed workers who are con- 
stantly driven to seek out employment at substandard wages in order to 
survive," Mr Ali warned. 

In China it is getting harder to create jobs. In the 1980s, the ADB study cal- 
culates, it took a 3 percent growth rate in China to induce a 1 percent increase 
in employment, compared to the 8 percent growth rate that was required to 
achieve the same result the following decade. 

Employment growth rates have been especially disappointing in the formal 
sector, where production is more capital-intensive and workers have defined 
employment contracts that provide for decent working conditions and greater 
job security. 12 

So even when economies are successful, there isn't any necessary link 
between competitiveness and profitability - the measures of success - and the 
well-being of workers and the poor. Neoliberal capitalism does need skilled 
workers, but it also rests on a vast undergrowth of low-paid workers, many 
with little or no job security, some illegal migrants, in the rich economies of the 
North as well as in the global South. 

But there are larger uncertainties that the ideologues of the "knowledge 
economy" ignore. Companies and whole sectors may flourish or fail for reasons 
that may only at best be partially connected with what they do. Thus the New 
Economy boom at the end of the 1990s encouraged huge investments in IT and 



10 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



telecommunications industries, far greater than there was any realistic expecta- 
tion of making a decent return on. For example, 39 million miles of fibre-optic 
cable were laid in the US, enough to circle the globe 1,566 times. 13 

This over-investment then, as it has so often in the history of capitalism, led 
to a bust. Today many IT and telecom firms are still struggling with the effects 
of this slump while it is often "Old Economy" firms that are currently prosper- 
ing - particularly those in industries such as oil, gas, steel and mining that have 
benefited from the rising global demand for raw materials that has been pulling 
up the prices of these commodities. These firms don't exactly fit easily into the 
theories of the knowledge economy. But a decade ago the picture was precisely 
the reverse, helping to give rise to these theories in the first place. This reflects 
the fact that capitalism is driven by competition, a blind process whose out- 
comes can be neither controlled nor (in any detail) predicted. 

There is another feature of competition that is ignored, not just by propo- 
nents of the knowledge economy, but also by vice-chancellors when they 
proclaim their university to be a "world centre of excellence" or whatever. 
Competition involves both winners and losers. Not every university can be a 
"world centre of excellence". What happens to the losers? In the case of eco- 
nomic competition, they are taken over or driven out of business altogether and 
their workers may lose their jobs. In the case of universities, failure may not 
mean closure (yet), but it does mean a smaller share of resources and therefore 
poorer conditions for staff and students. 

For even if the ideology of the knowledge economy offers a very partial and 
rosy picture of reality, it does contain one particle of truth. The present era of 
global capitalism is one of intense international competition. Individual firms 
are under constant pressure to cut costs by raising the productivity of their 
workers. Since there are only 24 hours in the day, higher productivity tends to 
depend on investment in more advanced technologies. So investment in 
research and development and in training the highly skilled workers who can 
design and operate new technologies is necessary. 

This same logic of competition is felt by entire economies, which are con- 
stantly comparing their productivity and competitiveness with those of their 
rivals. The spectre of India and China, the great new low-cost economies of the 
East, are held before bosses and workers alike to keep them searching for effi- 
ciency gains. Neoliberalism in higher education means that this logic of 
competition is internalised deep into how universities work. As we shall see, this 
serves to ensure that they teach growing numbers of students and perform 
increasingly vital research as cheaply as possible. 



AlexCallinicos 11 



Harnessing knowledge 
to profits 



Hypocrisy has been a -watchword of New Labour in office, but one has to 
give the government credit about the openness and honesty with which it 
has expressed its intentions for higher education. Thus an important policy 
document from Gordon Brown's Treasury declares: 

Harnessing innovation in Britain is key to improving the country's future 
wealth-creation prospects. For the UK economy to succeed in generating 
growth through productivity and employment in the coming decade, it must 
invest more strongly than in the past in its knowledge base, and translate this 
knowledge more effectively into business and public service innovation. The 
government's ambition, shared with its partners in the private and not-for- 
profit sectors, is for the UK to be a key knowledge hub in the global economy, 
with a reputation not only for outstanding scientific and technological discov- 
ery, but also as a world leader into turning that knowledge into new products 
and services. 14 

The Treasury makes a strong economic case for investment in research based 
in the public sector, but emphasises that this research can't be the pursuit of 
knowledge for its own sake. Hence the need for "greater responsiveness of the 
research base to the economy": 

Better integration of the research base with the evolving needs of the economy 
should support growth in business R&D [research and development] and 
innovation through encouraging multinational firms to invest in the UK sup- 
porting middle-sized firms in raising their R&D intensity towards the best in 
their industry, and fostering the creation of new technology-based sectors 
through the creation and rapid growth of new enterprises." 

Since universities are the most important part of the "research base", this 
means that they have to be subordinated more tightly to "the evolving needs of 
the economy". This objective was spelled out explicitly in 2003 by the then edu- 
cation secretary, Charles Clarke, who set as one of his three main goals "better 
progress in harnessing knowledge to wealth creation". 16 



12 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



As part of this effort, Brown commissioned Richard Lambert, former editor 
of the Financial Times and now Director-General of the Confederation of 
British Industry, to explore ways of improving the relationship between univer- 
sities and business. Underlying this mission was Brown's concern to raise British 
productivity, chronically lower than that of the other advanced capitalist 
economies. 

Lambert highlights the fact that British investment in R&D, a key determi- 
nant of productivity performance, has been declining compared to that in other 
economies: "In 1981, the UK's total spending on R&D was higher than that of 
any other member of the Group of Seven leading industrial countries, with the 
exception of Germany. By 1999, it was lagging behind Germany, the US, France 
and Japan, and only just keeping pace with Canada." Moreover, British R&D 
investment is concentrated in a handful of sectors, notably pharmaceuticals, 
biotechnology, defence, and aerospace, and "is lower [than the international 
average] for all other major sectors and especially so in electronics and electri- 
cal, chemicals, engineering, and software and IT services". 17 

This pattern reflects more general peculiarities of British capitalism, which 
has suffered from chronic problems of under-investment in manufacturing 
industry for more than a century. The areas where R&D is concentrated are 
among the few where there are still relatively strong British-based industrial 
companies. But Lambert warns: "All these companies are now global in char- 
acter, and all have fewer cultural and intellectual ties with the UK than they did 
a decade ago." They could therefore increasingly shift their R&D away from 
Britain, since transnational corporations are tending to site their activities close 
to their key markets. 18 

But Lambert points to a much broader change in how R&D is carried on. 
From the beginning of the 20th century onwards, big companies tended to do 
research in their own laboratories: this was true, for example, of the German 
chemical industry and of Bell Laboratories in the US. But this is now changing. 
Products are now so complex that research is needed into a wider range of 
technologies than any single company can afford to undertake. Intense compe- 
tition has forced even the biggest companies to reduce costs by concentrating on 
"core" activities, cutting back on or even closing their research labs. Finally, it 
has become easier for individual researchers to move around and even set up 
their own small companies with finance from venture capitalists. 

But R&D remains crucial to improving productivity and competitiveness. 
Lambert argues that it is the job of universities and the state to pick up the slack 
left by companies: 

In this changing environment, universities are potentially very attractive part- 



Alex Callinicos 13 



ners for business. Good university researchers operate in international net- 
works: they know where cutting-edge work in their field is going on around 
the world. Unlike corporate or publicly owned research facilities, university 
laboratories are constantly being refreshed by the arrival of clever new 
researchers in the form of students, postgraduates and teachers." 

As the American business academic Henry Chesbrough puts it, 

The wealth of innovations that diffused out of these [corporate] laboratories 
since the 1960s is not likely to recur from those labs in the future, given the 
labs' shift in orientation away from basic research. The seed corn that will cre- 
ate the innovations of 20 years hence will have to be provided elsewhere in the 
society. Governments and universities will need to address this imbalance. 
Increasingly, the university system will be the locus of fundamental discover- 
ies. And industry will need to work with universities to transfer these 
discoveries into innovative products, commercialised through appropriate 
business models. 20 

Moreover, Lambert argues, "the change is especially important for the UK, 
where research output from the universities compares well with the interna- 
tional competition, but business research does not. Properly managed, there 
could be significant opportunities for UK business to sharpen its competitive 
edge through these new partnerships". 21 According to various international per- 
formance indicators, British universities are generally number two or three in 
the world (with US universities consistently number one), way ahead of British 
firms' global ranking. 22 So the academy is to come to industry's aid. 

There is something paradoxical about all this. According to neoliberalism, 
private enterprise is best. This is the rationale for the large-scale privatisation of 
the provision of heath and education services being forced through by New 
Labour. But, when it comes to R&D, so crucial to competitiveness, private 
firms are cheerfully cutting back on the most important, long-term investment, 
in the expectation that universities and behind them the state will take on this 
role. 

From a Marxist perspective, this isn't quite so surprising. The state depends 
on the health of the economy over which it presides for the resources it needs in 
order to conduct its activities. In a capitalist society, this gives those running the 
state an interest in promoting the profitability and growth of the firms that 
dominate the economy. Should they fail to do so, then these firms will punish 
them by, for example, taking their capital out of the country, thereby making it 
more expensive for the state to borrow money, and forcing down the exchange- 



14 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



rate of its currency. 

Under Blair and Brown New Labour reached the conclusion that, rather 
than precipitate this kind of capital flight, governments must slavishly follow 
the whims of big business. As in the past, this can involve the state performing 
activities that are in the interests of capitalists generally but that they individu- 
ally find too expensive to undertake. This was one reason why, in the first half 
of the 20th century, the state took on the job of ensuring that the workforce and 
its children were kept healthy and well educated - and hence efficient and 
acquiescent. 

Under the Tories and New Labour the state has been restructured - welfare 
provision hasn't been abolished, but has been cut back and, as far as possible, 
privatised, the repressive parts of the state - armed forces, police, prisons, secu- 
rity services - have been strengthened, and resources have been transferred to 
help make private firms more competitive. What is happening in higher educa- 
tion is an example of this. The government wants to increase total UK 
investment in R&D from 1.86 percent of gross domestic product in 2002 to 
around 2.5 percent in 2014. To this end spending on public research is due to 
increase, after inflation, at a rate of 5.8 percent a year between 2004-5 and 
2007-8. 23 

But this money isn't being given to universities to spend on whatever 
research they believe to be valuable. On the contrary, as we have already seen, 
the government's aim is "harnessing knowledge to wealth creation" - to the 
logic of competition and profit. Leadbeater puts it even more starkly: 
"Universities should become not just centres of teaching and research but hubs 
for innovation networks in local economies, helping to spin off companies for 
universities, for example. Universities should be the open-cast mines of the 
knowledge economy". 24 This is an interesting metaphor, since strip mines are 
notoriously bad for the environment and for those who work in them. In fact, 
this process of degradation is already well advanced in British universities. 

There is a historical irony in all this. The student radicals of the 1960s 
denounced universities as ivory towers of privilege and demanded that what 
they did became relevant to the larger community. 23 Tories and New Labour 
alike have adopted the language of "relevance". They too denounce the aca- 
demic ivory tower, but in the name of very different priorities. The student 
movements of the 1960s wanted to transform the university and in the process 
liberate it from capitalism. Today government and business want to transform 
the university in order to subordinate it systematically to capitalism. 



AlexCallinicos 15 



Strip mining universities 



The neoliberal restructuring of higher education in Britain has been going 
on for more than 20 years. It began under Thatcher as a cost-cutting exer- 
cise: spending on universities was held down as part of the Tories' broader 
attempt to reduce public expenditure. But under Major and Blair the emphasis 
shifted to expanding universities on the cheap. 

This is reflected in the fact that what academic bureaucrats call the "unit of 
resource" - the amount of money the government allocates per student - has 
fallen steadily. This means that university workers have become more produc- 
tive as they have had to teach and provide other services to growing numbers of 
students. On average, 30 years ago lecturers each taught nine students: now 
they teach 21 - a 150 percent increase in productivity. 26 Particularly in the new 
universities (former polytechnics and other colleges that became universities in 
1992) the burden can be much higher than this average suggests, with first-year 
students especially being taught in groups of 500 to 600. 

At the same time, academic pay has fallen in relative terms. In 1981 to 2001 
non-manual average earnings rose by 57.6 percent after inflation. In the same 
period the salary of academics at the top of the Lecturer B scale in the old uni- 
versities rose by 6.1 percent above inflation, and that of academics on point 6 of 
the senior lecturer scale in the new universities by 7.6 percent after inflation. In 
the decade to April 2003 real average earnings for academic staff rose by 6.6 
percent, for accountants by 12.1 percent, secondary school teachers 12.3 per- 
cent, medical practitioners 26.6 percent, and managers and senior officials 31.6 
percent. 27 

The productivity squeeze on academic staff has taken other forms as well. 
One of the most important is the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), first 
introduced under the Tories in 1986. This takes place at slightly irregular inter- 
vals (the last was in 2001; the next finishes in 2008), and seeks to assess the 
quality of research carried out in every university department and institution in 
the country. 

The rankings of departments and institutions are then used as the basis on 
which the university funding bodies, the Higher Education Council for England 
(HEFCE) and its counterparts elsewhere in the UK, allocate what is called 
"quality-related" (QR) money to universities (higher education is full of 
acronyms and absurd bureaucratic language). This is the biggest source of 
research funding for universities and is crucial to their ability to function as 



16 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



more than purely teaching institutions (the other main source in the government 
system of "dual support" for research is provided by the state-funded Research 
Councils, which provide grants for specific projects). 

The RAE very much reflects the logic of neoliberalism. Academics are 
employed to engage in research as well as teach (two fifths of their salary is 
notionally to pay them to do research). How then to measure their productiv- 
ity? Analogies with industry require that some physical output can be found 
that can be measured. The obvious "output" of academics is publications. But 
it soon became obvious that simply counting the number of books and articles 
wouldn't do, since it's quite easy to write large amounts of rubbish. So the RAE 
increasingly came to function as a process of peer review, with panels and sub- 
panels of academics in different subjects assessing the quality of their 
colleagues' work. Each academic still has to submit four "items of research out- 
put", but these are judged, for example, by whether or not they are published in 
"highly-rated" journals (which are usually based in the United States). 

The RAE has come to be an increasingly costly and time-consuming process 
that is full of irrationalities. For example, universities have come up with vari- 
ous tricks to keep "unproductive" academics off the books so that they don't 
reduce their ratings. Thus some lecturers were forced to sign "teaching-only" 
contracts so they no longer counted for RAE purposes. The exercise in many 
ways resembles the absurdities of the old bureaucratic command economy in 
the Soviet Union: since such a big chunk of universities' money depends on their 
RAE ratings, they have an incentive to massage their submissions, just as 
Stalinist enterprise managers used to try to deceive the central planners. 

In response to complaints about the burden of the RAE (the 2008 exercise is 
expected to cost £45 million), Gordon Brown announced in March 2006 that 
the government is planning to simplify the system by eliminating the present ele- 
ment of peer review and allocating QR funding on the basis of "metrics" - ie 
quantitative targets such as institutions' success in attracting income from the 
Research Councils. 28 

This would reinforce the irrationalities present in the existing system; the arts 
and humanities, which don't receive much Research Council income, would 
suffer particularly badly. The whole set up is in any case just one example of the 
way in which an ideology centred on the free market has in fact legitimised a 
considerable increase in government control of universities. Thus university 
teaching is also centrally policed by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), 
which performs a role similar to Ofsted in schools. 

The RAE has already profoundly changed British higher education, in many 
ways for the worse. Assessment has increasingly been narrowed down to the 
performance of individual academics. In the 2008 exercise, for example, every- 



AlexCallinicos 17 



one's research will be graded according to the following criteria - "Four star: 
Quality that is world leading... Three star: Quality that is internationally excel- 
lent... Two star: Quality that is internationally recognised... One star: Quality 
that is nationally recognised... Unclassified": forget it. 29 Because the cost of 
coming too low in the rankings is very high, institutions will try to push as 
many staff as possible into the top grades, leading to absurdly inflated claims 
about their international (why not intergalactic?) standing. 

The RAE has been a key mechanism in internalising the logic of competition 
within universities. Each academic knows that her career prospects depend on 
how well she does in the RAE. This gives her a powerful incentive to concen- 
trate her time, not on teaching or collaboration with her academic colleagues, 
but on her own research. Academics try to "buy themselves out" of the heavy 
burden of teaching and administration by winning research grants. When they 
are successful, their teaching will be taken on by a temporary replacement or by 
a postgraduate teaching assistant. 

This is simply one of the pressures contributing to the increasingly hierarchi- 
cal nature of universities. One of the most well-known is the star system. To 
improve their RAE rankings, universities compete to attract top researchers 
who genuinely have international reputations. These stars are given special 
terms - extra high salaries and little or no teaching and administration. The 
result is a pecking order, with the Premier League of big academic hitters at the 
top, the mass of underpaid and overworked "ordinary" academics in the mid- 
dle, and a growing number of temporary staff, many of them research students 
struggling to finish their PhDs, on short-term contracts or paid by the hour at 
the bottom. 

But there is an increasing hierarchy not among academics but between uni- 
versities. Lambert pointed out that in 2000-1 15 English universities received 
between 60 and 68 percent of each of the three main sources of research fund- 
ing - QR from HEFCE, grants from the Research Councils, and industrial 
research grants and contracts: ten of them figured in all three groups - Oxford, 
Cambridge, University College London, Imperial College, King's College 
London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, and Southampton. 30 

Universities that do not receive significant research funding have no alterna- 
tive but to concentrate on teaching. This division of labour is inevitable in the 
present system: if a relatively small number of institutions get the lion's share of 
research funding, the rest (plus part-time staff in the "top" universities) must 
carry the burden of teaching a vastly expanded student population. 

Of course, universities in Britain have always reflected a hierarchy, with 
Oxbridge at the top. But government policy in general, and the RAE in particu- 
lar are reinforcing and restructuring this hierarchy. In the 2001 RAE 



18 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



institutions were ranked from 1 to 5, with 5* at the top. After the exercise was 
over the government invented a new top ranking of 6* (departments that had 
scored 5* in this and the previous RAE) and increased in real terms the amount 
of money they received. 5* departments' allocations were left the same after 
inflation, and everyone else had their money cut in real terms! The government 
had, in effect, moved the goalposts. Margaret Hodge, then Minister of State for 
Lifelong Learning and Higher Education, explained: "We want to concentrate 
funding on the world class institutions and secondly on those that demonstrate 
that they are on the upwards escalator". 31 

A study by the British Philosophical Association brings out just how concen- 
trated this research funding has become. In 2006-7 just £10 million worth of 
QR was distributed among Philosophy Departments as follows: 

5* £33,634 per research active staff member (6 departments) 

5 £26,579 (16 departments) 

4 £8,520 (10 departments) 

Below 4 nothing (12 departments) 

The White Paper The Future of Higher Education sets out the rationale 
behind concentrating research funding in this way: 

International comparisons show that other countries, like Germany, the 
Netherlands and the USA (where research and the award of research degrees 
is confined to 200 out of 1600 "four year" institutions), concentrate their 
research in relatively few universities. Similarly, the Chinese government is 
planning to concentrate research funds through the creation of ten world-class 
universities; and in India there is a National Institute of Technology, on five 
sites across the country. This suggests we need to look again at how our 
research is organised, and make sure we have a number of institutions able to 
compete with the best in the world. 32 

As usual, it is the threat of international competition, above all from China 
and India, that is used to justify restructuring. The logic of this policy of con- 
centrating research funding is to create a university system like that in the US, 
with an elite of "world-class institutions", a relatively large number of universi- 
ties where some research is done but that concentrate on teaching, and, at the 
bottom, the equivalents of American community colleges that teach primarily 
vocational courses to poor working class students. This hierarchy of institutions 
helps to reproduce the class inequalities that are already pervasive in the school- 
ing system. 



AlexCallinicos 19 



As a result, teaching very much comes second to research in British universi- 
ties. At both the institutional and the individual level, success and the rewards 
associated with it come from research performance. This may seem paradoxical 
given the now all-pervasive ideology that treats students as customers exercis- 
ing freedom of choice when applying for courses, but it is an ineluctable 
consequence of how higher education has been restructured over the past 20 
years. The intrusions of the QAA, which are legitimised by this consumerist ide- 
ology, provide a further mechanism of government surveillance over 
universities, but they don't alter the fundamental character of the system. 

The low priority given to teaching has been reinforced by the widespread 
modularisation of university courses. This has had the effect of reducing courses 
to uniform and interchangeable bite-sized chunks that, ideally, students can 
pick and mix to compose their own degree. They are the main victims of these 
changes, which at worst deprive their degrees of any intellectual coherence, 
especially when they are combined with the replacement of the mediaeval three- 
term system with American-style 15-week semesters, whose introduction has 
tended to have the effect of reducing the weeks of actual teaching that students 
receive. 

Another implication of this set up is that the cost of failing to make it as a 
"research university" is very high. Institutions that fail to gain a decent amount 
of research funding are likely to experience a further decline in their relative 
competitiveness. An initial trend or weakness becomes self-fulfilling - falling 
recruitment, absence of research income, staff demoralisation, and a future as a 
"teaching-only" institution. 

So university managers have a strong incentive to make their institutions as 
productive and competitive as possible. A few years ago I attended a meeting of 
senior academics where it was reported that a Downing Street adviser had said 
that Britain could only support half a dozen "world-class" universities capable 
of competing with the top American universities. This sort of prediction is cal- 
culated to chill the blood of the vice-chancellors of the Russell Group of 19 
"research-intensive" universities as each struggles desperately to ensure that 
their institution is one of those that makes the grade. Anxieties of this kind 
embed the logic of competition more deeply into higher education. 

This logic operates in areas other than research. The high fees paid by over- 
seas students - ie those coming from outside the European Union - give 
universities a powerful incentive to recruit them. Overseas student fees offer 
cash-strapped institutions a vital source of income. In 2004-5 there were over 
217,000 overseas students at British universities: China (by a wide margin the 
biggest source), the US, India, Malaysia and Hong Kong supplied the most stu- 
dents. 33 



20 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



The London School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African 
Studies are unusual in getting a third of their total income from overseas student 
fees, but many new universities that don't receive much research funding have 
been very active in recruiting abroad. 34 But British universities are competing for 
overseas students on a world scale with their counterparts, notably in other 
English-speaking countries such as the US, Australia and New Zealand. 

They are therefore very dependent on forces outside their control - for exam- 
ple, changes in government visa policies (a major issue since 11 September 
2001), international economic crises (for example, the one that hit East Asia in 
the late 1990s), and the development of more robust university systems in 
major suppliers of overseas students such as China. The more universities tie 
themselves to the global market for international students, the more vulnerable 
they are to its fluctuations. 

The logic of competition implies centralised management. Getting rid of 
uncompetitive departments and staff and demanding higher productivity from 
the rest can't easily be done by democratic debate and decision-making. Power 
needs to be concentrated in the hands of top managers who are suitably 
rewarded for enforcing the necessary policies on the workforce. This process is 
well advanced in British universities. 

University tradition in this country is marked by a strong emphasis on colle- 
giality. This may date back to the original medieval idea of the university as a 
community of scholars, though there is no point in sentimentalising it. The idea 
of academics collectively running universities is most strongly entrenched in the 
most privileged institutions, the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, where, at 
worst, it provided a licence for parochialism, indolence and drunkenness. But in 
the university system more generally collegiality did mean that academics had a 
significant degree of control over their work. 

The reality is very different now. The neoliberal restructuring of universities 
has led to a redistribution of power within them. A distinct managerial elite has 
emerged to implement the new policies. Some are senior academics; others are 
recruited from elsewhere in the public sector or from private business. Their 
PowerPoint presentations are larded with business school gobbledegook, but 
they can't be dismissed as a joke, since they are the ones who make the deci- 
sions, which they do not on the basis of intellectual values, but of the bottom 
line. This pattern is reproduced lower down the hierarchy, as heads of academic 
departments become line managers required to implement targets laid down by 
top management, HEFCE, QAA, and the Department for Education and Skills. 

This process reflects a government policy of modelling universities on how 
businesses are run. The Lambert Review paid special attention to university 
management: "Many universities are reorganising their structures and delegat- 



AlexCallinicos 21 



ing authority out of committees and into the hands of academic and adminis- 
trative managers. The results are more rapid decision-making and more 
dynamic management. Other universities should follow this lead and borrow 
from best practice in the sector." Lambert stresses the role of the vice-chancellor 
in particular: 

The vision and management skills of the vice-chancellor, more than any other 
individual, determine the future shape and success of a university. The role of 
the vice-chancellor is now more akin to that of a chief executive officer in an 
operation turning over hundreds of millions of pounds each year. The chal- 
lenge of developing and implementing sustainable long-term strategies and 
financial plans requires considerable managerial and strategic - as well as aca- 
demic - leadership. 35 

This is, of course, a version of the ideology of "leadership" constantly 
invoked by Tony Blair and used more broadly to make heroes of billionaires 
such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. The airs and graces that vice-chancellors 
give themselves - and the generous salaries they are paid - therefore aren't pri- 
marily a matter of individual vanity and greed. They reflect the broader 
neoliberal logic: if the vice-chancellor is now a CEO running his university like 
a business, then he should be treated like one, and paid like one. 

That's how the university employers and the vice-chancellors themselves 
explained the fact, revealed during the 2006 pay dispute, that the average salary 
of a university boss had risen to £158,000 a year, 25 percent more than three 
years previously - 33 vice-chancellors were paid more than the prime minister, 
with 18 receiving over £200,000 a year. "Vice-chancellors do a demanding job 
as chief executives of complex, multimillion pound organisations," said the 
Universities and Colleges Employers Association and Universities UK. "Their 
remuneration packages reflect what it takes to attract, retain and reward indi- 
viduals of sufficient calibre, experience and talent in a growing sector". 36 
Exactly the same argument is used to justify the positively obscene increase in 
executive salaries that has, for example, seen the pay of a top CEO in the US 
rise from 47 times the average salary in 1971 to 2,381 times in 1999 - a rise 
way in excess of the growth of profits or share prices over the same period. 37 

But universities aren't just being run like businesses - they are being pushed 
to work more closely with them. As we have seen, the Lambert Review, backed 
by the New Labour government, puts major emphasis on what it calls "knowl- 
edge transfer" - universities conducting research that is of direct benefit to and 
is used by business. Partnerships between universities and private firms are 
being strongly promoted. These can take different forms - universities receiving 



22 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



research contracts from companies, providing consultancies for them, forming 
longer term collaborative projects, or creating their own "spin-outs", compa- 
nies set up commercially to exploit discoveries made in a university. 

To support these activities the government has introduced what it calls "third 
stream funding", financed from the Higher Education Innovation Fund. 
HEFCE has announced, "We are seeking to explore the potential of some HEIs 
[Higher Education Institutions] to play a greater role in fostering productivity 
and economic growth through making third stream activity their second mis- 
sion focus, after teaching". 38 What this semi-literate statement means is that 
some universities are being pushed to working for business or setting up busi- 
nesses instead of conducting their own research. 

HEFCE now produces regular Business Reports. The latest, published in July 
2006, revealed, according to the Financial Times, that: 

British universities were becoming more business savvy. 

The number of options and licence agreements jumped 198 percent to 
2,256 to 2003-4. The combination of licensing deals, contract research, con- 
sultancy income and other activities contributed about £2 billion to the 
economy in 2003-4. 

Universities have become more successful at licensing their discoveries. 
Adrian Day, the policy officer at HEFCE, said, "Five years ago technology 
commercialisation was a new word for universities and everyone was being 
told to spin out companies without really knowing what to do with them. 
Now we are seeing fewer companies but of higher quality". 39 

Some spin-outs are becoming seriously profitable businesses. Also in July 2006 
Imperial Innovations, set up by Imperial College, became the first university- 
owned technology-transfer company to be floated on the market, raising £25 
million by selling a 14 percent stake to financial institutions. 40 A specialist "in 
turning high-technology ideas into profitable companies" told the Financial 
Times that "most of Britain's top research universities will have signed long-term 
deals giving companies exclusive access to their discoveries and inventions within 
the next two years". Ten institutions had already made this agreement and "intel- 
lectual property commercialisation companies had now started scrambling to sign 
up the remaining 30 high-calibre universities before anyone else". 41 



AlexCallinicos 23 



Proletarianisation and 
precarity 



The neoliberal restructuring of universities has dramatically changed the sit- 
uation of both staff and students. These changes can be summed up in two 
words - "proletarianisation" and "precarity". These words may seem 
intimidating, but then so are the social and economic realities to which they 
refer. Proletarianisation is the process of being reduced to a wage labourer, 
dependent on her ability to sell her labour power on the market and subject to 
managerial power at work. Precarity is the condition of insecurity experienced 
by increasing numbers of workers and -would-be workers in the neoliberal era - 
of being permanently on the edge of unemployment, having to make do with 
casual, temporary, perhaps part-time work, or combining several jobs. 

Traditionally academics have been a relatively privileged group of employ- 
ees. They had the status and relatively high pay of professionals. They also 
enjoyed a large degree of autonomy at work, being able to manage their time 
and decide when to do their teaching to a degree unusual for wage earners. This 
sense of being special was reinforced by the role academic staff often played in 
running universities. These conditions provided the material basis for the idea 
of the university as a community all of whose members had the same interests. 
They were reflected in the old universities in the way in which the Association 
of University Teachers (AUT) traditionally saw itself, not as a trade union, but 
as a professional association. 

This privileged situation reflected the role that universities came to play from 
the late 19th century onwards when they developed into modern institutions 
that still taught only a small minority of mainly male young people. Oxbridge 
took on the function of integrating the old aristocracy with the upper middle 
class of professionals needed to run a world empire, and other universities 
emerged to train the researchers and specialists required for a modern industrial 
capitalist economy, as well as the workforce of the expanding education system 
itself. 

The elite character of this system, which even survived Lord Robbins's 1963 
report recommending the expansion of higher education, ensured that, as the 
sociologist A H Halsey puts it, "the university had a right to autonomy, to gov- 
ern itself, and to receive funding from the society it adorned, through state 
mechanisms unencumbered by democratic parliamentary scrutiny." The 



24 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



University Grants Committee (UGC), responsible for government funding of 
universities between 1919 and 1989, "acted as a bridge and buffer between the 
universities and the state, carrying this academic interest [in teaching and 
research] and protecting it against government control". 42 

Halsey paints an only slightly caricatured picture of the worldview of tradi- 
tional academics as it used to be expressed by the AUT: "Gentlemen are not 
subjected to wages, hours and conditions of work. They have no employer, no 
trade union, and no machinery of negotiation, arbitration and conciliation. 
They receive remuneration, not a rate of pay. They follow a vocation rather 
than hold a job". 43 

The experience of the past 25 years has rudely shattered this outlook. 
Academics have seen their pay more or less stagnate in real terms, and decline 
relatively. In 1928-9 the average academic salary was 3.7 times average earn- 
ings in manufacturing industry, in 1966-7 2.1 times, in 1988-9 1.54 times. 44 As 
we have seen, the burden of work has mushroomed as they have had to teach 
more students and take on greatly increased administrative tasks, many of them 
imposed by the highly centralised way in which the government and its agencies 
now run the universities. Unlike the UGC, which it replaced, HEFCE is a simple 
instrument of state policy. Under its guidance, research has become a rat race 
with the constant pressure to publish for the RAE. The development of mana- 
gerial methods of organisation has transferred power from the committees on 
which academics sit to much smaller groups centred on the vice-chancellors. 

Of course, conditions vary throughout the sector. They are generally better in 
the elite of "research universities" (the Russell Group plus a handful of others), 
and the star professors recruited for RAE purposes get a good deal wherever 
they are based. Moreover, within university departments the line of demarca- 
tion between managers and routine employees is still more blurred than it is in 
many other workplaces: heads of departments are "colleagues" as well as "line 
managers". This can cause much confusion since, for example, it means that 
some managers are union members as well. 

On the other hand, academic staff in the new universities enjoyed in the past 
less privileged conditions than their counterparts in the old ones; the struggle, 
for example, to carve out time for research is nothing new for them. This helps 
to explain why their union, the National Association of Teachers in Further and 
Higher Education (Natfhe), developed a much more militant tradition of trade 
unionism, and has tended to be led from the left. 

Under its last general secretary, Paul Mackney, Natfhe took a particularly 
strong political position, especially in supporting the Stop the War Coalition 
and Unite Against Fascism. These traditions were reinforced by the fact that the 
union also organised lecturers in colleges of further education, a sector that 



AlexCallinicos 25 



experienced in the 1990s a much sharper and more brutal neoliberal reorgani- 
sation, and consequently more severe deterioration in conditions for staff and 
students than universities have yet suffered. 

Despite these variations the general trend is very clear - what Halsey calls 
"the gradual proletarianisation of academic professions". 45 University teachers 
are being reduced to the condition of highly qualified wage labourers. This 
process is reflected in a transformation in consciousness that is particularly vis- 
ible among more senior academics in the old universities who started their 
careers in the 1970s and 1980s when the conception of the university as a com- 
munity still had some hold on reality. 4 ' Much more widespread now is a "them 
and us" consciousness often expressed in real bitterness towards the govern- 
ment and the university management. Accompanying this change in mentalities 
is the rise of genuine trade unionism in the old universities - the majorities for 
industrial action in recent ballots held by the AUT and its merger with Natfhe 
to form, on 1 June 2006, the new University and College Union (UCU). 

But the process of proletarianisation extends deeper than the deterioration in 
the condition of lecturers. Universities are increasingly reliant on large numbers 
of staff on short-term contracts. Some are employed as researchers and lab staff; 
others are taking up a growing share of the teaching burden. There is a strong 
trend towards replicating the pattern of top American universities, where a 
course given by a well-known academic involves him or her giving the lectures 
and the actual teaching in seminars or tutorials being done by postgraduate 
teaching assistants or other hourly-paid lecturers. 

Funding for students to pursue doctoral research is extremely limited. This 
means that those studying for a PhD have to find ways of supporting them- 
selves. One obvious route is to teach, usually for the university where they are 
doing their PhD. Sometimes they have to do this teaching as a condition of 
receiving a university research scholarship, sometimes they are paid on an 
hourly basis, and sometimes they are employed full time, as a temporary 
"teaching fellow" or the like. 

Postgraduate teachers are only the tip of a much larger iceberg. Colin Bryson 
estimates that they make up only 15,000 out of a total 70,000 hourly paid lec- 
turers, "something around or just less than the number of salaried full-time and 
fractional part-time staff who teach in UK higher education". 47 Hourly-paid lec- 
turers and other contract staff are the precarious workers of the neoliberal 
university. Their numbers have grown considerably in recent decades since they 
offer a low-cost way of teaching increasing numbers of students. But the price is 
high for all concerned. 

According to research conducted or summarised by Bryson, hourly-paid lec- 
turers generally aren't paid for the time they put in preparing teaching, receive 



26 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



little training or support, are marginalised in the design of the courses they 
teach and indeed in the rest of departmental decision making, and therefore find 
it hard to develop much of a commitment to the institution that takes such 
advantage of them. Research staff, though they enjoy greater work satisfaction, 
suffer from job insecurity. Increasingly scientific workers, instead of enjoying 
secure, well-paid jobs in large industrial labs, work precariously in the 
universities. 

The pervasive gender inequality in higher education is reflected in the con- 
centration of women among hourly-paid and research staff, while their 
numbers fall in the upper echelons of the academic hierarchy. 48 In 2004-5 
women made up 40 percent of all academic staff, but only 15 percent of profes- 
sors and heads of department and 29 percent of senior lecturers and 
researchers. 62.7 percent of female academics worked full time compared to 
76.7 percent of their male colleagues. 49 

The social character of students has also changed tremendously in the course 
of the 20th century. A hundred years ago universities were bastions of the 
largely male offspring of the aristocracy and the upper middle class. There were 
only 25,000 university students in 1900, 61,000 in 1924, and 69,000 in 1939. 
Notoriously Oxford undergraduates scabbed on the General Strike of May 
1926. This began to change after the Second World War, with two great pulses 
of university expansion in the 1960s and over the past 20 years. The proportion 
of British 18 year olds in higher education rose from less than 3 percent before 
the First World War to 7.2 percent in 1962-3 and 14.2 percent in 1972-3 and 
16.9 percent in 1988-9.'° 

Yet, despite the huge growth in student numbers, numerous studies have 
shown that people from manual working class backgrounds still find it very 
hard to make it to university. A major study by Nuffield College, Oxford, of 
social mobility in Britain after the Second World War, based on interviews with 
men born between 1913 and 1952, found that at every level the education sys- 
tem was dominated by what it called the "service class" of professional, 
managerial, and administrative employees: 

School inequalities of opportunity have been remarkably stable in the forty 
years which our study covers. Throughout the service class has had roughly 
three times the chance of the (manual) working class of getting some kind of 
selective secondary schooling... An extra 2 percent of working class children 
found their way into the universities compared with an extra 1 9 percent of the 
service class. 5 ' 

The categories used by the Nuffield Social Mobility Group (and many other 



AlexCallinicos 27 



official studies) are in some ways misleading, since they are based on income 
and occupation. In Marxist theory a person's class position depends on her 
place in the relations of production and in particular the process of exploitation 
- the extraction of surplus labour from the direct producers. From this perspec- 
tive, the working class consists of all those whose conditions of existence 
compel them to sell their labour power on terms that lead to their exploitation, 
which means that they work not just to support themselves but to produce prof- 
its for capital. This requires their subordination to managerial power at work, 
irrespective of whether they do manual or white-collar work and of how skilled 
they are. 52 

Today many workers need to have a university education because of the kind 
of skilled labour needed by capital. Above the mass of white-collar workers and 
skilled manual workers is a relatively small hierarchy of managers who receive 
autonomy and material privileges in exchange for supervising the rest of the 
workforce and therefore merge into the capitalist class itself. Below them are 
relatively unskilled and low-paid manual workers, often in precarious jobs. It is 
this latter group whose children find it hardest to get to university. 

A major HEFCE study published in January 2005 has shown that about 30 
percent of 18 and 19 year olds participate in higher education in England and 
about 38 percent in Scotland. The biggest recent increase took place under the 
Tories, not New Labour. "Young participation" doubled between the late 
1980s and the early 1990s, but rose by only 2 percent between 1994 and 2000. 
Moreover, "there are broad and deep divisions in the chances of going to HE 
[higher education] according to where you live. Young people living in the most 
advantaged 20 percent of areas are five or six times more likely to enter higher 
education than those living in the least advantaged 20 percent of areas." Thus, 
comparing parliamentary constituencies, the study found: 

Young people in the four lowest participating constituencies - Sheffield 
Brightside, Nottingham North, Leeds Central and Bristol South - have a one 
in ten, or worse, chance of entering HE. In contrast, in the highest participat- 
ing constituencies - Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Sheffield Hallam 
and Eastwood (Scotland) - two out of three young people enter HE. 53 

You don't have to be an expert in social geography to know that that the two 
groups of constituencies cover respectively some of the richest and the poorest 
areas in Britain. More detailed analysis at the level of census wards revealed: 

a consistent picture - of the areas with the lowest young participation rates 
being disadvantaged in many other ways, and conversely the areas with the 



28 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



highest participation rates enjoying many other advantages. 

Children in low participation areas are likely to be living in local authority 
rented homes in some of England's most deprived wards with, for example, 
less space and fewer household goods than their peers in high participation 
areas. The neighbourhood maps of participation show that often their nearest 
secondary school will have only a small proportion of its pupils gaining five 
GCSE A-C grades. In contrast, children in high participation areas are fre- 
quently near schools, often fee-paying, where nearly all the pupils gain these 
grades. Adults in low participation areas are likely to work in a manual occu- 
pation, have a low income, to receive means-tested benefits and not have, for 
example, a car or an overseas holiday. They are much less likely to have any 
experience of higher education than those in high participation areas, and the 
two groups differ sharply across a wide range of measures of political, cultural 
and consumption behaviour. 54 

Michael Corver, the author of the HEFCE study, said that, "if all areas of the 
UK sent the same proportion of young people to university as the top 20 per- 
cent of neighbourhoods do now, there would be a million more students 
entering higher education"." His research confirms what is known more gener- 
ally about inequality. Advantage and disadvantage are cumulative: in other 
words, what keeps the rich rich and the poor poor isn't just one single factor but 
a whole pattern that favours some and undermines others, embracing the phys- 
ical and mental health of a child's mother during pregnancy, diet, living space, 
exercise, individual attention during the first years of life, access to books and 
travel, quality of schooling and parental support. Underlying this pattern is, of 
course, the distribution of wealth and income. 56 

A child's performance at school - critical, of course, to whether or not she 
can get into university - is in many ways a proxy for where she fits into this 
overall pattern of advantage and disadvantage. Research for the Treasury has 
shown that: 

• If one father's earnings are double the level of another, his son's maths test 
score is on average five percentile points higher than the other's and 2.7 per- 
centile points higher up the reading test distribution. 

• For a daughter the gain is five percentile points up the distribution of both 
maths and reading tests scores. 5 ' 

The New Labour government is well aware of the inequalities in access to 
higher education. The evidence I have been citing comes from its own studies. 
Moreover, education generally has been central to the strategy that Brown has 



AlexCallinicos 29 



pursued of seeking to reduce inequality by improving individuals' ability to par- 
ticipate more effectively in the labour market. "Fair access" is one of the main 
slogans of government higher education policy, with the aim of increasingly the 
proportion of those aged 1 8 to 30 who go to university from the current level of 
around 43 percent to 50 percent by 2010. 

The authors of one study argue that "there is no prospect whatever" of meet- 
ing this target: falling birth rates mean that the number of young people of 
university age will drop sharply after 2010-11. Moreover, the decline in birth 
rates is especially high in poorer social groups that participate less in higher 
education, and so participation by young people from these groups will actually 
fall. 58 

Whether or not this analysis is correct, New Labour policies work against its 
own aim of widening access to universities. There are two main reasons for this. 
The first is that Blair's and Brown's overriding commitment to neoliberalism 
has helped to perpetuate a profound division between rich and poor. As the 
Financial Times points out, despite Brown's efforts to redistribute income to 
poor households with children, "by almost every measure, inequality is either 
the same or more pronounced after nine years of Labour than it was at the end 
of Margaret Thatcher's tenure. ..says Mike Brewer at the IFS [Institute of Fiscal 
Studies], Mr Brown has had to spend more on redistribution 'to achieve noth- 
ing'."" Thus, under New Labour the pattern of cumulative advantage and 
disadvantage that is reflected in inequalities in access to higher education has 
been further entrenched. 

Secondly, one of the main ways in which the Blair government has sought 
university expansion on the cheap is by abolishing the maintenance grant, intro- 
ducing and now extending student fees, and thus compelling students to finance 
themselves by going into increasing debt. Even before top-up fees (generally set 
by universities at the maximum level of £3,000 a year) came into effect in 
autumn 2006, there was growing evidence that the prospect was discouraging 
young people from poorer working class backgrounds from going to university. 

The proportion of university entrants aged 18 and 19 from state schools and 
colleges rose slightly between 1999 and 2003-4, from 85 to 86.8 percent, but 
fell to 86.7 percent in 2004-5. The proportion coming from poorer back- 
grounds also dropped back, from 28.6 percent in 2003-4 to 28.2 percent the 
following year. 60 Statistically these variations aren't significant, but there have 
been other signs suggesting that student debt and fees may be having a negative 
impact. 

Applications to English universities were 5 percent down in December 2005 
compared to a year previously. 61 A poll of 7,000 year 12 students at state 
schools who were predicted to get three B grades or better in A Levels found 



30 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



that 27 percent were less likely to go to university because of the introduction of 
higher fees. 62 Meanwhile, applicants from the top three occupational groups 
make up 73 percent of those awarded places at the Russell Group universities. 6 ' 

Nevertheless, for all the inequalities in access to higher education, the stu- 
dent population has become much larger and more diverse. There are a million 
new university entrants every year, more than one in four of whom come from 
poorer backgrounds. This means that the experience of being a student has 
changed substantially. For one thing, they matter more economically as con- 
sumers and future workers. The decline of manufacturing industry and the 
expansion of student numbers have made universities a much more important 
factor in the economy of many British cities. 

According to the Financial Times, a study commissioned by the Office of the 
Deputy Prime Minister: 

found the main metropolitan centres had managed to reverse population 
decline and were emulating the success of London, largely because an increase 
in university education was improving the calibre of the workforce and chang- 
ing the profile of the inhabitants. 

Manchester in particular was found to have transformed its fortunes as an 
influx of students coming to the city's four universities stayed on as graduates. 

They then provided a market for housing regeneration and fuelled the 
growth of the local knowledge-based economy. 64 

The economic impact that consumption by large concentrations of students 
can have is very evident in areas such as Oxford Road in Manchester or Clifton 
in Bristol. But this should not conjure up images of affluent student binge- 
drinkers. All the evidence is of growing inequalities produced by a system of 
student finance based on fees and loans. A government -commissioned study by 
South Bank University and the Policy Studies Institute published in November 
2003 found, according to the Guardian, that: 

poor students leave university with average debts of over £10,000, despite 
taking on more paid work and spending less than better off counterparts. 
Student debt overall has more than doubled between 1998-99 and 2002-03 
from £3,465 to an average of £8,666 for final-year students. More than half 
of undergraduates in 2003 expected to leave with debts of £9,673 or more... 
Mandy Telford, president of the National Union of Students, accused the gov- 
ernment of "spinning figures to paint students as purveyors of some sort of 
extravagant lifestyle". She said: "What this survey shows is that 43 percent of 
students have poverty incomes. This is twice as many compared with similar 



AlexCallinicos 31 



households in the population at large." 

The report concludes: "Students from lower income backgrounds were more 
likely to be in debt, and anticipated leaving university with the largest debts." 
Students from better off homes avoided high debts thanks to savings and "gen- 
erous financial support" from their families." 

Another study, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, predicts that top-up fees 
may triple student debt. According to the Guardian: 

The research. ..also suggests that disabled students, and students who do not 
receive help from their families, will be hit most severely... It found that 
tuition fees have been passed directly into debt: with the average figure rising 
in line with the increase in tuition fees. 

In addition, the fees have not led to a general increase in term-time work- 
ing. There has, however, been an increase among those who receive no 
financial assistance from their parents, further disadvantaging these students. 

At the same time, the research does suggest that fees have evened up the 
playing field for some. Students whose parents went to university used to be 
much less likely to work in term-time, but since fees were introduced, they are 
just as likely to work during study as other students." 

A recent joint study by the TUC and NUS found that between 1996 and 
2006 the number of full-time students who supported themselves through paid 
employment rose from 408,880 to 680, 718, an increase of 54 percent. One in 
ten of these worked full time. According to the study: 

Student employment is concentrated in retail and hospitality, two of the low- 
est paying sectors of the economy... 

• Among full-time students, the retail sector accounts for 40 percent of 
employment, with nearly half a million working in that sector. 

• Nearly a quarter of a million full-time students work in the hotels and 
restaurant sector, equivalent to 21 percent of the working student popula- 
tion. 

• For all men working part-time, the average hourly rate of pay is £6.21 an 
hour in retail and £5.70 an hour in hotels and restaurants. For all part-time 
women the rates are even lower at £5.98 and £5.51 respectively. 

• Student employment in hospitality increased by just over a third between 
1996 and 2006, with a clear gender split: the number of male full-time stu- 
dents working in this sector has grown by 22.9 percent since Spring 1996. 



32 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



The number of female students has grown by 45.8 percent, double the 
increase among male students. 67 

Some find themselves doing more degrading and dangerous work, if the sto- 
ries about some women students financing their studies by lap-dancing are to be 
believed. More generally, however, students merge into the much larger popula- 
tion of precarious workers doing part-time, low-paid, casual jobs. This 
workforce, many of them recruited from among migrants, is as essential to the 
functioning of neoliberal capitalism as are the highly-paid and skilled jobs high- 
lighted by ideologues of the knowledge economy. 

Ever since the 1960s expansion students have been a transitional group, 
caught between the social class in which they originated and their future desti- 
nation in the occupational structure. Uncertainty about where they will end up 
has helped to make them a politically volatile group.' 8 This structural insecurity 
remains today. There are undoubted economic advantages that derive from 
going to university: graduates and those with "sub-degree" qualifications earn 
on average 50 percent more than non-graduates." 

But this "graduate premium" does not place most graduates in a particularly 
privileged position. Only a handful will end up in really lucrative positions - for 
example, top-paying jobs in the City. Most will become relatively well-paid and 
skilled white-collar workers. There, whether they are employed in the public or 
private sector, they will be subject to the same kinds of pressures towards 
greater productivity and competitiveness that we have seen at work in universi- 
ties. The plight of academics themselves, most of whom these days have one or 
two postgraduate degrees, shows very clearly that university qualifications no 
longer secure a place in the elite. 

This overall pattern isn't, however, radically different from the one obtaining 
a generation ago: since the 1960s university has been a preparation for white- 
collar work. One thing university expansion of a neoliberal basis has done, 
however, is to force increasingly large numbers of students to become casual 
wage labourers while they are studying. The precarity they experience then is a 
good preparation for the neoliberal world of work that awaits them when they 
graduate. 



AlexCallinicos 33 



Resistance is not futile 



The neoliberal transformation of universities over the past 25 years has been 
relentless, but it has also been piecemeal. Change has come not abruptly, 
but through a process of drip, drip, drip. At each stage the reaction of 
many academics has been not to oppose the latest unwelcome change but to 
make it work in as little harmful a way as possible. This has led to their collab- 
orating in a process whose cumulative effect has been to transform higher 
education radically and, to a large extent, for the worse. 

The effect has been deeply demoralising for many academics, who have 
helped implement changes that they really hate. Underlying their participation 
has been the assumption that, in the famous words of Mrs Thatcher, There is 
No Alternative. Resisting neoliberal "reform" is therefore futile. Acceptance of 
this assumption leads at worst to joining the other side, and becoming one of 
the suits who currently run British universities, at worst to the pursuit of indi- 
vidual solutions - promotion or early retirement. 

But there is an alternative - resistance isn't futile. This has become evident 
since movements of resistance to neoliberal globalisation began to emerge - in 
Chiapas, Mexico, in January 1994, and then on a much larger scale at with the 
protests in Seattle in November 1999 and in Genoa in July 2001. The World 
Social Forum, the most general gathering of these movements, has popularised 
the slogan "Another World is Possible" - in other words, we don't have to sub- 
mit to the logic of neoliberal capitalism. The first European Social Forum in 
Florence in November 2002 broadened the focus of the movement to include 
imperialism and war by calling the unprecedented global day of protest against 
the forthcoming attack on Iraq on 15 February 2003. 

Alternatives to neoliberalism have become visible particularly thanks to the 
way in which struggles in Latin America have developed. In Venezuela, 
President Hugo Chavez has based himself on the support of the poor, using the 
country's oil revenues to implement genuine social reforms and defying the 
hegemony of the United States. In Bolivia Evo Morales was brought to the pres- 
idency thanks to two mass rebellions of the poor, in October 2003 and 
May-June 2005, that removed his neoliberal predecessors, and sought to 
restore state control over the oil and gas industry, which had been sold off to 
foreign multinationals. 

Closer to home in more than one sense, in March and April 2006 a spectac- 
ular protest movement among French high school and university students 



34 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



succeeded, with the support of the trade unions, in defeating the draft CPE law, 
which would have allowed employers to sack workers aged under 26 without 
explanation during the first two years of their contract. This revolt against the 
right wing government's attempt to impose much greater precarity on young 
workers was marked by a much closer relationship between students and work- 
ers than during the great student-worker revolt of May-June 1968. "This time 
the school and university youth has acted as part of the world of labour", writes 
Stathis Kouvelakis. 70 

According to Kouvelakis, this change reflected the breakdown of the tradi- 
tional separation of function between schools and universities, where the 
workforce is reproduced by being educated, and workplaces, where commodi- 
ties are produced: 

This separation tends in fact to become blurred under the impact of the dual 
basic tendency borne by the neoliberal restructuring of capitalism: on the one 
hand, the growing subordination of the schools and universities to the capi- 
talist-commodity logic that transforms those parts which are most massified 
and least "competitive" into training centres that are more and more governed 
by the same logic as that of the positions (scarcely enviable) in the labour mar- 
ket for which they are the providers; on the other hand, the reduction of the 
gap between youth in schools and universities and young workers due to the 
increase in wage-earning activity among lycee [high school] and above all uni- 
versity students. 

Certain branches or sectors of activity (fast food, call centres, department 
stores, supermarket chains) even specialise in this category of labour. If we add 
to this the extraordinary proportion of short-term contracts, sham proba- 
tions, periods of unemployment etc that in France are imposed particularly on 
those between 18 and 26, we end up with a range of positions which embody 
a violent movement of reproletarianisation of this part of the labour force. 

Such a shift thrusts into the distant past the old gap between a minority of 
young people from well-off families with access to the baccalaureat [high- 
school diploma] and to university, and a majority who are involved in 
production. 

This "great transformation" has, of course (in comparison with 1968) not 
only made easier the link with workers but, above all, has given this an 
"organic" character, the character of the building of a common struggle, and 
not of an alliance or solidarity between separate movements. 

It also explains the main form taken by the student movement itself, which 
brings it closer, including in this perspective, to working class struggle: the 
"blockade" (and not "occupation", an interesting semantic distinction despite 



AlexCallinicos 35 



aspects that are often comparable) of lycees and universities that are seen as 
being a place and tool of labour (and being intended for it) whose production 
flow (lectures, examinations) is to be interrupted. 71 

The radical impetus of the student movement imposed a discipline on the 
trade union leaders, limiting their room for manoeuvre and preventing them 
from negotiating a deal with the government that might have saved the CPE. 
Nothing like this has, alas, happened in Britain. Nevertheless, as we have seen, 
the trend described by Kouvelakis towards the large-scale involvement of stu- 
dents in precarious labour is very much at work here. And the French example 
is an important one for students and lecturers in Britain. Elsewhere in Europe it 
helped to stimulate student occupations in Greece in May and June 2006 that, 
with union support, forced the right wing government to postpone its plans to 
privatise the universities. 

What has happened in Britain is the development of more militant trade 
unionism among academics, which led to the merger of the AUT and Natfhe to 
form UCU. The first test came in spring 2006, when the about to be merged 
unions mounted a joint boycott of assessment in support of their demand that 
the university employers fulfil their and the government's promise to use the 
extra income from tuition fees to begin to reverse the relative decline in aca- 
demic pay. 

The boycott received strong support from lecturers, despite the bullying of 
university managements, many of which threatened to cut the pay of those tak- 
ing part in industrial action, and in some cases actually did so. Because 
academics are service workers, whose work directly benefits the recipients of 
their service, industrial action is always difficult. The most effective forms of 
action, by preventing teaching and marking, directly hit students by threatening 
to deny them education or even their degrees. This isn't an argument against 
lecturers taking industrial action. They should mount action that hits quickly - 
all-out strikes or assessment boycotts - so as to put the maximum pressure on 
the employers to concede an acceptable settlement with the minimum of dam- 
age to students. 

The student response to the boycott was mixed. The NUS leadership was 
supportive, but came under pressure from a few student unions that cam- 
paigned against the boycott. This was a reflection of two problems. The first is 
the failure of the NUS leadership to lead effective mass campaigns in defence of 
students' interests, for example, over the issue of top-up fees. Without any clear 
evidence of the effectiveness of collective action, it was inevitable some students 
would be attracted by the idea of themselves as individual consumers seeking to 
enforce their rights against the academic unions. 



36 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



Secondly, there is the other side of the social transformation highlighted by 
Kouvelakis. Students are a socially heterogeneous group. While most will end 
up in some more or less skilled white-collar job, some come from privileged 
backgrounds that guarantee them an affluent future. Others from poorer homes 
still hanker after the very well paid jobs that a small elite can attain, notably in 
the City. Students hoping to inherit a place in or climb to the upper regions of 
the class structure are unlikely to look kindly on collective action aimed at rem- 
edying the inequalities from which they seek to benefit. 

The 2006 assessment boycott came down to a game of chicken: who would 
blink first - the unions or the employers. Unfortunately it was the leaders of 
what was about to become UCU who blinked. Breaking promises to their mem- 
bers not to call off the action until a ballot had taken place, they suspended the 
boycott on the basis of an offer little different from one they had rejected a few 
days earlier. 

Union officials justified this cave-in on the grounds that the boycott was 
beginning to crumble (though they offered no real evidence to support this) and 
that, if the action had continued, many university managements would have 
withdrawn from national pay bargaining. Local bargaining is undoubtedly a 
real threat, but the only thing that will block it is the assertion of union power, 
not displays of weakness. 

For all that, the strength of the boycott showed the depth of many academ- 
ics' loyalty to their unions. This was perhaps most striking in some of the old 
universities where young contract staff helped to breathe new life into local 
AUT associations, transforming them into real trade union branches. The boy- 
cott thus offered a glimpse of the potential of UCU at the same time as it 
pointed to the need for the left to organise effectively within the merged union 
to hold the leadership to account. 

The gap between the generally progressive policies of both Natfhe and the 
AUT and the behaviour of their officials over the boycott is nothing new or 
unique to university lecturers' unions. Full-time trade union officials tend to 
form a distinct social group defined by their role in mediating between labour 
and capital. They seek to negotiate better terms for the exploitation of workers 
rather than to lead struggles aimed at ending that exploitation. This is why, 
important though it is to elect the best possible union leaders, rank and file 
trade unionists should never rely on them, but should organise for themselves. 

The new UCU Left held its first conference in June 2006. It will have to strive 
to build strong rank and file organisation that can take action, if necessarily 
independently of the full-time officials. Wider political horizons will be needed 
as well. As we have seen, what has dragged down so many workers in universi- 
ties - and in other workplaces as well - is the belief that there is no alternative 



AlexCallinicos 37 



to neoliberal capitalism. The most important achievement of the movement for 
another globalisation is to challenge this belief - to show that there is nothing 
natural about a world where the market is sovereign. The left in universities will 
be most effective where it places itself as part of the worldwide resistance to 
neoliberalism and war. 

Much thought and work needs to go into this. The European Social Forum 
has provided a framework in which education activists from across Europe can 
meet and exchange ideas. But this seems to be much more developed among 
schoolteachers and their unions than it is among academics. But, if another 
world is possible, why not another university as well? 

Today universities perform a ragbag of different social functions, including: 

• individual self-development; 

• the inculcation of complex, socially useful skills; 

• the pursuit of "pure" research - that is the search for knowledge for its own 
sake; 

• the conduct of commercial and military research; 

• helping to reproduce a cohesive dominant class; and even 

• critical reflection on society. 

The current restructuring of universities aims to subordinate them very 
directly to the needs of neoliberal capitalism. No wonder then that Bill 
Rammell, the Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher 
Education, should dismiss the drop in applications for subjects such as philoso- 
phy, history, classics and fine art in the 2005 admissions season as "no bad 
thing": "students are choosing subjects they think are vocationally beneficial", 
he explained. 72 

But there is no particular reason why the functions listed above should all 
take place in the same institution - indeed, they haven't historically. Many of 
the most influential thinkers of the past couple of centuries - Darwin, Marx and 
Freud, for example - worked outside universities. Albert Einstein ended up in 
the academic splendour of the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton, but he 
wrote the articles that revolutionised physics as a clerk at the Geneva Patents 
Office. It is only since the Second World War that universities have become the 
main place where critical theories of society are developed, and many think that 
the effect has been to encourage the production of abstruse theoretical dis- 
courses designed for a readership of academics. 73 

We should certainly defend what is valuable in existing universities against 
the threat to destroy it represented by their neoliberal transformation. For 
example, given the pervasive influence of dumbed down corporate media, it is 



38 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



important that universities continue to provide an intellectual space where crit- 
ical thinking takes place. But one subject of critical debate should concern the 
role of universities in a genuinely democratic society. Worthwhile activities such 
as seeking self-development, acquiring new skills, and pursuing research need 
not be carried out in the same institution. Nor do they have to be confined to a 
specific period in one's life, usually early adulthood - this is the element of truth 
in official chatter about "Lifetime Learning". 

And there is certainly no need to for universities to be run on the hierarchical 
basis that they are today, with managers and senior academics at the top. The 
demands for the democratisation of universities - for students and all university 
workers to participate in decision making - raised by the student movements of 
the 1960s and 1970s have lost none of their relevance. 

But any real attempt to open universities out and democratise them would 
run slap against the drive by the government, supported by big business, to har- 
ness higher education to the priorities of competition and profit. These 
priorities could not, for example, tolerate the large-scale redistribution of 
resources from rich to poor, funded through progressive taxation, that would 
be needed genuinely to equalise access to education from the earliest years 
onwards. 

What neoliberalism has done has been to isolate and enforce a very pure 
form of the logic of capitalism itself. This, as we have seen in the case of univer- 
sities, is a logic of competition and profit. Challenging this logic means pursuing 
a different kind of world, governed by different priorities - those, for example, 
of social justice, environmental sustainability and genuine democracy. 74 
Preserving and developing what is valuable in existing universities can't be sep- 
arated from the broader struggle against capitalism itself. 



AlexCallinicos 39 



Notes 



i www.hesa.ac.uk/holisdocs/pubinfo/ 
student/insti tutiono405.html 

2 HEFCE, Young Participation in Higher 
Education, January 2005, 
www.hefce.ac.uk 

3 P Hitchens, "Why Does Everyone Find it 
So Hard to Understand the Tories?", 17 
May 2006, 
www.hitchensblog.mailonsunday. co.uk 

4 Department for Education and Skills, The 
Future of Higher Education, Cm 5735, 
January 2003, www.dfes.gov.uk, para 6.1, 
p68. 

5 D Harvey, A Short History of 
Neoliberalism (Oxford, 2005), pi 5. 

6 G Dumenil and D Levy, "Neoliberal 
Income Trends", Neiv Left Revieiv, 11/30 
(2004), ppin, 119. 

7 M Brewer et al, Poverty and Inequality in 
Britain: 2006, Institute of Fiscal Studies, 
March 2006, www.ifs.org.uk, P24. 

8 C Leadbeater, Living on Thin Air (London, 
2000), p8. 

9 T L Friedman, The World is Flat (London, 
2005), pio. 

10 See especially A Callinicos, Against the 
Third Way (Cambridge, 2001), ch 1, and 
An Anti-Capitalist Manifesto (Cambridge, 
2003). 

1 1 B Benoit and R Milne, "Germany's 
Exporters are Beating the World", 
Financial Times, 18 May 2006. 

12 J Johnson, "Asia Faces Jobs Crisis that 
Could Hit Growth", Financial Times, 27 
April 2006. 

13 R Brenner, "Towards the Precipice", 
London Review of Books, 6 February 

2003. See also Brenner's The Boom and 
the Bubble (London, 2002). 

14 H M Treasury, Science and Innovation 
Investment Framework 2004-2014, July 

2004, www.hm-treasury.gov.uk, para 1.1, 

P5- 

15 As above, para 1.19, ppio-n. 

16 The Future of Higher Education, p2. 

17 Lambert Review of Business-University 



20 



3° 
3 1 



34 
3 5 

3 6 

37 



Collaboration: Final Report, December 

2003, www.lambertreview.org.uk, para 

2.4, pi5, para 2.6, P17. 

As above, para 2.10, pi8. 

As above, para 1.17, pn. 

As above, para 1.19, pn. 

As above, para 1.3, P9. 

Science and Innovation Investment 

Framework 2004-2014, Appendix B, 

"Setting Targets and Measuring Progress". 

Science and Innovation Investment 

Framework 2004-2014, paras 1.4, 1.6, P7. 

C Leadbeater, Living on Thin Air, pi 14. 

For example, A Cockburn and R 

Blackburn (eds), Student Power 

(Harmondsworth, 1969). 

AUT, "The Pay Campaign in Brief", 

www.aut.org.uk/paybacktime 

AUT, "The Academic Pay Shortfall 19 81- 

2003 ", www.aut.org.uk 

H M Treasury, Science and Innovation 

Investment Framework 2004-2014: Next 

Steps, March 2006, www.hm-treasury. 

gov.uk, ch 4. 

HEFCE, RAE 2008: Guidance on 

Submissions, June 2005, www.rae.ac.uk, 

Appendix A, p3 1. 

Lambert Review, Table 6.1, p82. 

House of Commons Education and Skills 

Committee, The Future of Higher 

Education: Fifth Report of Session 2002-3, 

I, HC 425-1, 10 July 2003, 

www.dfes.gov.uk, paras 8 and 9, p8. 

The Future of Higher Education, para 

I.i4,ppi3-i4. 

D McLeod, "Overseas Student Numbers 

Rise", Guardian, 13 March 2006. 

D MacLeod, "International Rescue", 

Guardian, 18 April 2006. 

Lambert Review, para 7. 10, P95, para 

7-^3> P99- 

M Taylor, "AUT Calls for Inquiry into 

Vice-Chancellors' Pay", Guardian, 9 

March 2006. 

G Dumenil and D Levy, "Neoliberal 

Trends", ppn6-i8. 



40 Universities in a Neoliberal World 



38 "Third Stream as Second Mission", 18 
May 2006, www.hefce.ac.uk 

39 J Boone, "Academics Learn to License 
Inventions", Financial Times, 26 July 
2006. 

40 J Boone, "University Company Sells Stake 
for £25 Million", Financial Times, 21 July 
2006. 

41 J Boone, "Most Colleges 'Set to Sign 
Technology Transfer Deals'", Financial 
Times, 1 August 2006. 

42 A H Halsey, Decline of Donnish 
Domination (Oxford, 1992), pp6, 176. 

43 As above, P129. 

44 Asabove, P131. 

45 Asabove, P136. 

46 See C Bryson, "What about the Workers? 
The Expansion of Higher Education and 
the Transformation of Academic Work", 
Industrial Relations Journal, 35 (2004). 

47 C Bryson, Hiring Lecturers by the Hour, 
Natfhe, April 2005, www.natfhe.org.uk. 

48 C Bryson, "The Consequences for Women 
in the Academic Profession of the 
Widespread Use of Fixed Term Contracts", 
Gender, Work and Organisation, 11 
(2004). 

49 C Johnston, "Figures Show Rise in Part- 
Time Academic Staff", Guardian, 20 
February 2006. 

50 A H Halsey, Decline of Donnish 
Domination, P95. 

5 1 A H Halsey et al, Origins and Destinations 
(Oxford, 1980), PP205-206. 

52 See A Callinicos and C Harman, The 
Changing Working Class (London, 1987). 

53 Young Participation in Higher Education, 
pp9, 10-11,41. 

54 Asabove, PP137-138. 

55 D MacLeod, "Equality 'Would Double 
University Admissions'", Guardian, 19 
January 2005. 

56 B Barry, Why Social Justice Matters 
(Cambridge, 2005). 

57 H M Treasury, Tackling Poverty and 
Extending Opportunity, March 1999, 
www.hm-treasury.gov.uk, para 3.15^32. 

5 8 Higher Education Policy Institute, 

"Demand for Higher Education till 2020", 



21 March 2006, www.hepi.ac.uk 

59 C Giles and J Wilson, "State Largesse 
Brings Hope but Little Change", Financial 
Times, 19 September 2006. 

60 A Smith, "Government Failing to Widen 
University Access, Figures Show", 
Guardian, 20 July 2006. 

61 D MacLeod, "Fees Concern over Fall in 
University Applications", Guardian, 15 
December 2005. 

62 M Taylor, "Fees Deter State School Pupils 
from University", Guardian, 22 June 
2006. 

63 R Garner and B Russell, "Private School 
Stranglehold on Top Jobs", Independent, 
15 June 2006. 

64 M Green, "Universities and Local Power 
Vital to Recovery of Leading Cities, Says 
Study", Financial Times, 8 March 2006. 

65 L Ward, "Poor Students Shoulder Debt for 
Learning", Guardian, 19 November 2003. 

66 "Fees to Triple Student Debt, Says 
Report", Guardian, 28 January 2005. 

67 TUC/NUS, All Work and No Pay, 2006, 
www.tuc.org.uk, pp6, 4. 

68 C Harman et al, Education, Capitalism, 
and the Student Revolt (London, 1969), G 
Stedman Jones, "The Meaning of the 
Student Revolt", in A Cockburn and R 
Blackburn (eds), Student Power, and A 
Callinicos and S Turner, "The Student 
Movement Today", International 
Socialism, 1.75 (1975). 

6<) The Future of Higher Education, para 5.5, 

P59- 

70 S Kouvelakis, "France: From Revolt to 
Alternative", International Socialist 
Tendency Discussion Bulletin, no 8, July 
2006, www.istendency.net, P5. 

71 Asabove, p6. 

72 "Trend to Drop Philosophy No Bad 
Things, Says Rammell", Guardian, 15 
February 2006. 

73 See, for an account of these changes, R 
Jacoby, The Last Intellectuals (New York, 
1987). 

74 See A Callinicos, "Alternatives to 
Neoliberalism", Socialist Revieiv, July 
2006. 



Alex Callinicos 41 



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